Thousands march in Roast Busters protests

The Wellington march ended in Civic Square.
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The Wellington march ended in Civic Square.
Crowds marched through central Wellington for what they called a "national day of action against rape culture".
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Crowds marched through central Wellington for what they called a "national day of action against rape culture".
The protest on Wellington's Willis St.
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The protest on Wellington's Willis St.
Crowds marched through central Wellington for what they called a "national day of action against rape culture".
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Crowds marched through central Wellington for what they called a "national day of action against rape culture".
The capital demonstration heads into Civic Square.
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The capital demonstration heads into Civic Square.

Thousands of people have marched the streets of several cities today protesting rape culture in the wake of the Roast Busters scandal.

The Roast Busters case provided a "catalyst" for action against New Zealand's rape and victim-blaming culture, and as a result of widespread public anger today's event was "intense", protest organiser Anne Russell said.

She estimated between 1000 and 2000 people had joined today's march from Cuba Street in central Wellington to the waterfront. Victims would "come away with the knowledge that they have more of a community" and sexual violence support agencies would benefit from donations collected during the demonstration, she said.

Event organisers enlisted public support for their National Day of Action Against Rape Culture via social media sites addressing the group of West Auckland males, understood to be aged 17 and 18, who boasted online about sexual exploits with drunk and underage females.

Crowds lined Willis St to watch the march through the central city. Bystanders looked from shop windows and traffic was stopped in the area. Police were at the event but said the protest was peaceful.

Personal stories were shared with the crowds after the march arrived at Civic Square.

One victim of rape said she had first been sexually assaulted as a preschooler. Since then she found it difficult to get access to funding for help services.

Students from Wellington High School read out a letter written by students at West Auckland Avondale College, the school attended by some of the Roast Busters.

The letter attacked the school for its lack of support for victims and its acceptance of rape culture.

There was "rape humour" and "victim blaming" in the school's culture, the letter said.

"Students who perpetuate rape are given positions of leadership and responsibility," it claimed.

Merinda Jackson, a member of Wellington High School feminist group, said: "This is not a problem that's just about Avondale College. It's something every school has to address."

"We need more education about consent. Yes means yes, and no means no."

Three women marching in Wellington linked together by rope said they had "tied their legs together" in response to a lawyer's statement in court this week regarding an alleged rape.

"We always have to be prepared so we've tied out feet together in case we get raped here in the street," protester Ayelet McDonald said.

ROAST BUSTERS: Two members of the group Joseph Parker, 18, and Beraiah Hales, 17.
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ROAST BUSTERS: Two members of the group Joseph Parker, 18, and Beraiah Hales, 17.

About 1000 people were also marching in Auckland from Britomart, near the waterfront, up to Myers Park on upper Queen St. 

The marchers chanted "Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, no means no".

Green Party wormen's spokeswoman Jan Logie said she hoped the national day of action would cause change.

"Our shared outrage as the lack of justice for recent victims of sexual abuse can be harnessed to create real change," she said.

"I am overwhelmed by the strong message that New Zealanders are sending today, it's time for action."

ANGER: Protesters moving down Wellington's Victoria St during nationwide marches.
ANGER: Protesters moving down Wellington's Victoria St during nationwide marches.

Hamilton mother Jessie Hume, 36, started a petition last week demanding action against the Roast Busters and improved services for rape victims. So far more than 95,500 people have signed the document.

Hume was part of a group called Bust Rape Culture Now, which formed out of concern of police handling of the Roast Busters case.

The group called for rape crisis centres adequately and sustainably funded, education programmes introduced which focused on rape prevention and awareness, and a Law Commission report into pre-trial and trial processes for sexual assault victims.

"Roast Busters is not an isolated incident," a statement from the group said.

"These demands would help reverse the current public health crisis where one in every four women and one in every eight men in this country are affected by sexual violence."

Demonstrations were also been organised for Christchurch, Dunedin, Palmerston North, Hamilton, and Nelson.

A child-protection specialist was heading a special "multi-agency team" investigating the Roast Busters while Police Minister Anne Tolley has asked for an independent investigation into the police handling of the sex case.

JOHN KEY UNDERSTANDS PROTESTERS 'FEEL VERY STRONGLY'

As anti-rape culture rallies took place across the country today, Prime Minister John Key says he understands protesters "feel very strongly."

Thousands marched in the streets of several cities  in the wake of the Roast Busters scandal.

Speaking from a Commonwealth leaders' summit in Sri Lanka, Key acknowledged the anger.

"I'm not at all surprised that people feel very strongly about it. I personally feel very strongly about it. The behaviour is just unacceptable on so many different fronts.

"The challenge, I don't think for us as a country is understanding it. I think the real test is how do we make a change to resolve some of these issues."

There are "many parts" to the discourse, including whether rape took place, about victims' rights education and "to make sure that we don't see young guys engaging in behaviour which is just not acceptable."

He added: "The way that these girls were belittled, the country feels very strongly and I have to agree with them that it's just wrong."

However, he would not join some protesters in criticising the police investigation, saying an Independent Police Conduct Authority will hold the service to account.

"It's far too early, realistically, to do that. I mean you've got the IPCA who are going to hold a full inquiry. They are the only people that can delve right into the police work and see whether they actually carried out their actions appropriately."

Fairfax Media